Cornwall's Jewish Journey
A Falmouth student traces the heritage of Judaism in Cornwall and finds some pleasant surprises! Listen to the three parts of the audio report.
Moving from London to Cornwall made Gideon Goldberg think about his Jewish roots.
He didn’t know whether any Jewish people lived in Cornwall at all and, starting at University College Falmouth, he wanted to meet like-minded people. But as he researched the Jewish Community in Cornwall he discovered there was a rich cultural history.
Evidence can still be seen, such as 'Market Jew Street' in Penzance, or the Jewish cemeteries in the town, and in Falmouth. Interviewing people for his finals, he found out Cornwall used to have its own rabbi and the community here was thriving.
The Director of the Jewish Museum in London, Jennifer Marin, says the earliest details they have is from 1740.
"Sender Falmouth was really called Alexander Moses. He settled (in Cornwall) and began a community of pedlars. He would pay the pedlars licences, and provide them with credit such as jewellery on the condition that on every Friday they came back to Falmouth to make up a Minyan so that he could pray with Jewish men," explains Jennifer.
Sender saw this as an opportunity and thus the first synagogue in Cornwall was created.
Click on the links below to listen to Falmouth student Gideon Goldberg's pieces:
The former professor of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter, Charles Thomas says the Jewish journey to Cornwall was obvious.
"It was the attraction of two ports, Falmouth and Penzance, both of these were early commercial centres… places necessary to build and equip ships," he believes.
The caretaker of Falmouth's Jewish Cemetary, Eric Dawkins said the Jewish community was part of the civic system too, there was no ghetto system, and that many were clock makers.
Lemon Hart was a trader from the Penzance Jewish Community who became famous for his own brand of rum. The executive director of the Hidden Legacy Foundation, Evelyn Friedlander says:
"I'd always heard of Lemon Hart Rum, it was very popular. It ran a fabulous advertising campaign in the '60s so it was very well known and it came as quite a shock to me to find out he was a Jew from Penzance.
"He has national status and is thought to have been the person who negotiated with the Royal Navy at the time in order to provide the required ration of a daily tot of rum that the sailors were meant to have."
Godfrey Simmonds' great grandfather, BA Simmonds, was the longest serving rabbi in Cornwall. Talking about Lemon Hart, his grandfather turned up in Penzance in 1725 and was obviously a good businessman and became established, both as a retailer and jeweller, but at least as important as an importer of wines and spirits.
After the industrial revolution there was a big movement to the cities to find work, leaving Cornwall's Jewish Community severely diminished. By the 1850s the synagogue in Penzance closed its doors. It was sold off and bought by the Plymouth Bretheren.
Today Cornwall's Jewish Community is small but growing. Kehillat Kernow meets often to share services and festivals. For more information visit the website:
The book, Lost Jews of Cornwall, by Godfrey Simmons, Keith Pearce and Helen Fry can give you more information about Cornwall’s Jewish heritage.
last updated: 28/09/07
Take a look back and discover Cornwall's rich heritage